Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Is that a wig, or a bug? Five strange sightings in the Peruvian Amazon

Phil Torres /

A spider created a "decoy" that looks like a much larger spider.

By Douglas Main

Deep in the Peruvian Amazon lurk strange creatures and unique animals and sights, including spiders that make large spider-shaped decoys in their webs, unusually hairy caterpillars and atmospheric specters called solar halos.

These amazing finds were spotted by Jeff Cremer, marketing director for Rainforest Expeditions, an eco-tourism company that hosts guests in the?Peruvian Amazon?and organizes trips to the jungle, as well as?Phil Torres, a collaborating biologist.?

Here are five of the stunning sights Cremer and Torres have spotted:

1. Spider-shaped decoys

As if spiders weren't frightening enough (to many, anyway), here's a spider that makes designs in its webs that look like spiders, but are much larger than the web-builders themselves. The animal is almost certainly a new species, Torres said in a release from Rainforest Expeditions. It's thought that the spider-shaped design is a defense mechanism that is meant to distract or confuse predators, wrote Torres, who originally spotted the spiders.?

"Because of the spider's behavior and appearance, I thought that it might be a new species," Torres said in the statement. "After contacting spider experts, we think it is likely in the genus?Cyclosa, which is known for piling debris in its web for defense against predators but has never been recorded to do it in such a defined pattern as this particular discovery."

Jeff Cremer / Rainforest Expeditions

Macaws and other birds gather at a "clay lick," which contains minerals not found elsewhere in the area.

2. Macaw clay lick

In the middle of the jungle is an exposed hillside with a special type of sodium-rich clay, upon which nine species of parakeets, parrots and macaws feed, according to Cremer. The trace minerals in the clay cannot be obtained anywhere else in the area or from their usual food sources, so the birds flock there in large numbers to ingest small amounts of clay, he said.

Jeff Cremer / Rainforest Expeditions

The cocoon of a urodid moth hangs like a basket.

3. Basket cocoon

Inside the delicate mesh of a basketlike web, a young urodid moth larva waits to grow to maturity.

"This cocoon is unlike any other I've come across,"?Torres writes on the blog TheRevScience. "I couldn't find a lot of literature on these guys, but my best guess is the almost 1-foot-long (30-centimeter) silk string it hangs from and the detailed lattice structure would do well to protect against ants while minimizing investment in an all-encompassing cocoon as many moths have."

Phil Torres /

The larval form of a flannel moth, also known as a puss caterpillar, looks like a yellow toupee.

4. Bizarre puss caterpillar

This strange-looking chap is a larval form of a flannel moth, also known as a puss caterpillar. But don't be fooled by their soft-looking hair: Many flannel moth species' spiny hairs are poisonous. The insect also resembles the toupee of a rather famous financier. "We found Donald Trump's wig in the Peruvian Amazon," Cremer joked.

Phil Torres /

These amazing solar halos were spotted above the Tambopata River in Peru.

5. Solar Halos

These amazing?solar halos?were spotted above the Tambopata River, and this may be the most spectacular photo of the phenomenon ever photographed, Cremer said. These halos are caused by refraction and reflection of the sun's rays by ice crystals high in the atmosphere, in cirrus clouds.

Email?Douglas Main?or follow him?@Douglas_Main. Follow us?@OAPlanet,?Facebook?or?Google+.?Original article on LiveScience's OurAmazingPlanet.

Copyright 2013?LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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